I think it’s fair to say that the Blue Jays have had a relatively successful offseason so far this winter. Prior to the CBA lockout, the Jays were able to make two additions to the bullpen, bringing back a quality reliever in David Phelps, and adding a high upside arm in Yimi Garcia. Along with these moves, the Jays also found a potential replacement for the 2021 Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray in the form of Kevin Gausman.
General Manager Ross Atkins was able to get quite a bit of work done in the three-week period between the start of free agency and the December 1st CBA deadline. Even though there were some tough losses mixed in, I feel that the moves this front office made have strengthened the overall roster and will help lead this team to sustained success in the future. With all that being said, the heavy lifting is far from finished, and once a deal is struck between the MLB Players Association and the Owners, I anticipate Atkins to be as aggressive as he was prior to the shutdown.
The Blue Jays still have plenty of needs scattered across their roster, such as a player with similar offensive upside to Marcus Semien, another leverage reliever, a left-handed bat, and another starting pitcher. All of these areas will have to be addressed, but I want to specifically take a look at the possibility of adding an additional starter, to help fill the void left by both Ray and Steven Matz.
If the season began tomorrow, the Jays rotation would look something like this:
- Jose Berrios
- Kevin Gausman
- Alek Manoah
- Hyun Jin Ryu
- Ross Stripling (More than likely Stripling with guys like Nate Pearson, Anthony Kay, Bowden Francis, and Thomas Hatch in the mix during camp)
The top four in this Blue Jays rotation have the chance to be really, really good, as it contains three hurlers who have finished within the top 10 of Cy Young voting in the last two seasons and Alek Manoah, who is one of the most exciting young players in all of baseball. The club has an extremely talented top four that has the chance to be one of the best in the American League, but I don’t think the front office is going to stand pat and run someone like Ross Stripling out there every fifth day and hope for the best.
Another starter is going to be brought on board; the question is ‘who’? The free-agent market has some very intriguing names that are still available, with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Carlos Rodon all unable to find homes before the work stoppage. While adding an arm of this caliber would be fantastic, I’m not sure that the Blue Jays are in a financial position to do so. Atkins has already committed roughly 18.7 and 22 million dollars a season to Berrios and Gausman (both numbers are the contract’s AAV) and while the club does have financial flexibility, I don’t know if it would be wise to shell out the kind of money it would take to lure one of these arms north of the border when they have so much capital already committed to the rotation.
I do think that another big move is coming, but I believe this move is going to come on the offensive side of the ball. Because of this, the Jays are going to be looking for more of a mid-tier option to round out their rotation. The more affordable tier of starters left on the open market is pretty unimpressive and includes the likes of Yusei Kikuchi, Dylan Bundy, and Zach Davies.
It appears that it is going to be difficult to find that perfect mix between quality and price point with the starters left on the free agents market, as any one of the names I previously mentioned is someone that team will be betting on to bounce back from an ugly 2021 season. There really isn’t a quality mid-tier starter left on the free agency market, which may force the Blue Jays to look for a trade partner to fill the final slot in their rotation.
Thankfully, there is a team on the west coast looking to shed a little bit of money with a few quality arms that could be of interest and that team is the Oakland A’s. They have a plethora of arms that could be on the move, but the one that piques my interest for the Blue Jays is Sean Manaea, due to his price point, upside, and the potential low trade value he possesses.
Manaea, a supplemental first-round pick back in 2013, has been a consistent and reliable arm during his time in the Bay area. Through his first six seasons in Oakland, the southpaw has logged over 700 innings and posted a respectable 3.86 career ERA. Manaea has been a staple in the A’s rotation since his debut but has been unable to take that next step and become a top of the rotation arm, which is what Oakland envisioned when they acquired him from the Royals in exchange for Ben Zobrist back in 2015.
I believe there is a real chance that Manaea breaks out next season due to the progress he showed last year. On the surface, Manaea had a pretty average 2021 season, posting a 3.91 ERA across 179.1 innings. If you go a little deeper though, you’ll see that the left-hander was able to post a career-high 9.7 K/9 ratio due to an uptick in both fastball velocity and usage. Manaea also continued to show improvement in his change-up, which he threw 24% of the time and got swings and misses at a very impressive 31% clip, which was a huge reason why he was able to punch batters out at such a high rate.
Manaea has always been a starter known for his elite command, but never for his ability to miss bats, posting a mere 7.3 K/9 ratio before last season. The uptick in strikeouts, plus the ability to remain in the 89th percentile in walks allowed was fantastic, but may just be a glimpse of what the left-hander has in store for next season.
Along with throwing harder, generating more swings and misses, and continuing to have his trademark command, Manaea appears to be a darling of some advanced analytics that show just how valuable he could be going forward. Manaea posted the 16th lowest SIERA, among qualified starting pitchers last season. SIERA is basically your traditional ERA but eliminates factors that pitchers can’t control, such as defensive mistakes that were not considered errors or hitters getting on base despite weak contact.
Manaea posted a 3.68 SIERA, which was .23 points below his actual ERA, and lower than some very prominent names such as Lance Lynn, Walker Buehler, and teammate Chris Bassitt, who is viewed by many as Oaklands “ace” and is seen as a more valuable trade piece (considering both have been rumored to be on the move). Manaea’s low SIERA shows that he may have been a more productive pitcher than his high 3 ERA suggests, pointing to the fact that he is capable of producing at a higher level next season.
Along with the potential for a breakout season, Manaea is set to make a mere 10.2 million dollars through arbitration, which will give the Jays flexibility to make other moves if they do bring the southpaw on board. The Indiana native also shouldn’t cost a lot from a trade perspective. Manaea only has one year left on his deal and as previously mentioned, has yet to become anything more than a mid-rotation starter. Because of this, the Blue Jays shouldn’t have to touch any of their top prospects in order to get a deal done. I think a good trade comparison would be the Joe Musgrove deal from the last offseason.
Though Musgrove did have two years remaining on his contract, he was in the same boat as Manaea as he was someone who was a high draft pick with an immense amount of potential that just hadn’t showcased it yet. The Padres parted ways with a back end of the rotation arm in Joey Lucchesi, David Bednard, a 26-year-old reliever, and three middle-of-the-pack prospects as well to get the deal done. If the Blue Jays can work out a similar trade with the A’s to acquire the services of Manaea, they would be bringing in an arm, who at the bare minimum, is a serviceable big league starter with the upside to turn into a potential All-Star if he can tap into his full potential.
The Blue Jays are going to acquire another starting pitcher before the commencement of the 2022 season. They could take a flyer on someone like Dylan Bundy or Zach Davies, who have had great years at the big league level but have also had their fair share of struggles. Instead, why not see if they can swing a deal with the A’s for a starter with a consistent track record that has also shown flashes of stardom.